The Non-Catholic Cemetery in Rome

The Non-Catholic Cemetery in Rome by Nicholas Stanley-Price, reviewed by Margaret Stenhouse

Since the last guide book to the Non-Catholic Cemetery at Piramide in Rome was published 50 years ago, Nicholas Stanley-Price’s new version is particularly welcome. Subtitled “its history, its people and its survival for 300 years”, this guide covers every aspect of the life of the burial ground reserved for all Rome residents who (in the past) were not allowed to lie in hallowed Roman Catholic ground and (today) choose this last resting place for its beauty and peace.

The author, a historian who has worked in the field of heritage management, covers every possible aspect of the cemetery’s life, from its foundation in the 18th century to accommodate Protestant supporters who had followed the Stuart court in exile to Rome, to the present day, explaining the practical elements of general administration, conservation and maintenance.

The true charm of the book, however, is Stanley-Price’s gift of bringing the many dead to life. Through an extensive work of research, he has uncovered a wealth of stories and anecdotes regarding the occupants of the tombs that jostle each other in the various burial zones. We learn that although Joseph Severn was indeed the faithful friend of John Keats and, by public acclaim, was eventually interred alongside the poet, the same could not be said for Edward Trelawny, who nonetheless managed to manoeuvre a place right next to Shelley.

The many artists, sculptors, writers and diplomats buried in the cemetery are all documented, as well as lesser known personages, like 21-year old Robert Brown who tragically died on his Grand Tour. His inscription recounts that he “unhappily lost his life at Tivoli by his foot slipping, in coming out of Neptune’s Grotto….” and warned others to be more careful.

The book stresses, however, not only the memorial aspect of the cemetery but also the fact that it continues to be a working burial ground, with a chapter devoted to this aspect. But Stanley-Price reminds us that it is also a tourist attraction and a well-loved park – “a pleasant place for relaxation and contemplation”, increasingly frequented by Roman residents as well as foreign visitors.

Margaret Stenhouse

The Non-Catholic Cemetery in Rome – its history, its people and its survival for 300 years is on sale at the cemetery, price €18. All proceeds go to benefit the cemetery.